Dark wood takes me back to my grandparents’ home in Rochester, NY. A two-story structure built in the late 1800s, it contained massive pieces of darkly stained furniture. I felt as though the furniture, heavy and looming, dug into the floorboards and rooted somewhere below the cellar. Yet the forest didn’t frighten me; my thoughts of that home remain a warm memory.
The piece we’re looking at today is an antique American Empire Revival library table. It’s a dark wood, solid mahogany and made around 1900. I love its size — rather diminutive compared to most tables — and the pleasing curves of its scrolled legs. Although the table is solid, built-in wheels allow for easy movement.
As you can see, this table came to us in rough shape. Check out that large white ring mark. Did someone put a washtub on top of it, maybe enthusiastic college students looking to ice their beers?
We couldn’t retain the dark mahogany and still hope to sell the table here in the Sunshine State. I started to piece together a plan. I wanted to paint the bottom part with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. The question at hand: Could the top be saved? Luckily, David came to the rescue. The top absolutely could be saved, but first we had to clean off over a hundred years of grime with Simple Green and some mineral spirits.
Once we flipped it over, we found number 377 stenciled on the bottom. That’s the only identifying characteristic but not enough to lead us to a manufacturer.
David shellacked the lower part in preparation for the paint. It’s essential to shellac mahogany if you are going to use ASCP or else you’ll face red bleed through from the wood. We applied two coats of Zinsser Clear Shellac just to be safe.
On the tabletop, David used Citristrip Paint and Varnish Removing Gel to remove the old finish and stain. Two applications. Once he discovered that the top consisted of solid planks, not just a thin veneer over the subsurface, he grabbed the orbital sander. Using a power sander on veneer is a bad idea. The sander will eat through veneer in a heartbeat. But he now had solid planks. He whirred his way down to the natural wood grain — which is beautiful with rich tones and pronounced graining.
Here’s Pepper Popcorn checking out our work before being whisked back inside.
David didn’t fill in the dings and dents. We decided to maintain the integrity of the wood, which was still in very good condition. We feel there are times a piece should show its age and use. The rounded edge of the lower shelf, caused by hundreds of shoes resting and rubbing, are reminders of how many lives have touched this table. Sometimes, dings and excessive wear should be celebrated.
On to the painting. Inspired by Leslie Stocker of Colorways, I wanted to try a new technique. Leslie layers paint tones to create light and shadows. I didn’t plan to use Dark Wax on this table; I wanted tonal highlights to carry the effect. Here’s Leslie’s inspirational image:
Before moving on to my tonal technique, I first painted two coats of Old White.
Next, I created my mixture. Moving from top to bottom, the containers hold
- Old White
- Arles : Old White, 2:2
- Arles : Old White, 4:3
I anticipated my color to be a bit lighter than Leslie’s cabinet.
I relied on the two Arles/Old White mixtures the most, using the Old White for highlights and pure Arles for shadow. Here’s the beginning of my paint going down. As you see, I’m just applying patches of different tones randomly. A simple layering technique.
After I finished painting, David put on the first coat of MinWax Polyurethane. That’s where we are in this next picture. No wax on the paint yet, but light and shadows coming through. It’s subtle.
A problem cropped up with the polyurethane. David brushed it on in the shade and left it to dry but when the unseasonably warm sun came out, bubbles formed and dried on the table top. An unhappy David snatched up his sandpaper (180 and 220-grit) and set to it.
Four coats of the polyurethane went on. Between each coat David used 220-grit sandpaper to smooth out imperfections caused by dust or a slightly uneven application. He sanded the final coat of Poly with 600-grit wet/dry sandpaper and lemon oil. The table top feels as smooth and satisfying as soft ice cream on a sizzling day.
Meanwhile, I brushed on ASCP Clear Wax and wiped it off with a cloth. We snapped a few pictures and loaded the table into our SUV.
This table is inherently heavy and utilitarian but the lines and upswept curves of its design give lightness to the piece. It now sits at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery, ready for anyone looking for a desk, or computer table, or television stand.
Our French Bombé is another example of this layering technique.
If you liked this, follow us on our Facebook page.
Ann Marie and David